Tailored Thoughts on Playing Host
With the help of a few well-versed friends, Matthew takes a break from the sartorial seminars to offer up a few modern takes on the fine art of dinner hosting
words by Matthew GONZALEZ
At some point in your life, you are probably going to have to invite people around to your house for a meal that is a bit more formal than a take away while watching television. For all intents and purposes I am talking about a dinner party (although I really loathe the phrase as it instantly makes me think of 80s yuppies inviting their colleagues and making them wear dinner suits to impress the boss). So in order to help shed that stigma, I’ve curated a few tips from some of Marylebone’s best restaurants as a modern guide to hosting dinner for friends.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that dinner at your house is not supposed to be anything other than people getting together for a nice meal and (hopefully) enjoyable company. Don’t try to make it too formal. Some of the most awkward dinners I have personally been to consisted of friends unsuccessfully thinking they are going to have some Downton Abbey-esque meal in their one bedroom flat. Think about it in terms of yours and your guests’ personalities: If the atmosphere doesn’t line up with either of those, then the night might feel a bit forced.
Obviously, there are myriad ways to create atmosphere but music is one of the easier choices. Conversations will naturally ebb and flow and that’s okay, but complete silence in a social setting is awkward to say the least. It’s the main reason why we like going to places like pubs and restaurants. The low hum of other people’s conversations or a bit of background music acts as a subliminal white noise that in itself encourages conversation.
If you want to build upon that, try adding other elements like scent. It may sound a bit cheesy, but it is a great way to subconsciously engage your guests. Adding a scent can be tricky because you don’t want to use something that will smell artificial or chemical-laden, nor would you want to use something that would clash with the aroma of food you have prepared. Laurent Delafon from Cire Trudon recommends using a candle that is effervescent and citrusy. Lighting a candle that has notes of grapefruit right after cooking will help freshen the air without overpowering your meal.
Hosting a dinner means the food and drink is the focal point of the evening, so it is worth taking the time to consider what you cook. It should go without saying, but never try a new recipe without testing it beforehand. Make something that you know works. If you want to try cooking something new, then give it a test the weekend before to ensure not only that you like the recipe, but to find out what adjustments you might need to make to it. Most main dishes are still meat based, so it’s important to choose good cuts and prep it well. Ben Dale, head chef at Boxcar Butcher & Grill suggests that you season your meat with a generous portion of salt and ground black pepper. Salting your meat as soon as you buy it helps to draw out excess moisture and concentrate flavour when cooking.
When planning your main course, try to balance out your proteins with greens, especially if you have any guests who have dietary restrictions. Food intolerances and plant-based diets should be taken into account through a properly-planned menu. Kelly Landsberg from A.O.K Kitchen & Bakery rightly points out that you shouldn’t let dietary issues dictate your meal, but by making sure there is something for everyone, no one will feel left out.
One of the hardest aspects of planning a dinner is selecting the drinks. When I am out at a restaurant I pass the wine list to anyone who will take it, but dinner at home showcases more of your personality. Think about pairing your meal with beer instead of wine if you don’t feel confident about it. Conversely, once you’ve picked your recipes, any wine shop will be able to suggest a few good bottles to compliment your menu. While it’s not often a problem in larger cities it’s smart to have a non alcoholic option in case any of your guests are driving.
Desserts always make a meal feel complete. After putting in all the effort with everything else you can give yourself a bit of a break and pair a good quality bar of dark chocolate with a dry sherry or whiskey. Otherwise as Dalmaine Blignaut – head chef from Boxcar Baker & Deli says – find a recipe with a few simple ingredients like brownies as
an indulgent way to finish off a great meal.
Having people over for dinner can easily turn into a pantomime of what a dinner party should be, but if you put in the effort on prep and take a relaxed approach on the night, they really can be great ways to get friends and family over because, let’s face it, we probably don’t see them as often as we would otherwise like to. MG